Monday, July 21, 2008

Redemption




Before I go any further, let me say most emphatically, that I am a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, and a rabid one at that. The Pens’ loss in the Stanley Cup Finals still pains me so much that I cry if I dwell on it too much. Having said that, I wanted to share something that’s been percolating inside my brain for weeks. And if you already know the story, please move on, by all means. Like I said, this has been percolating in my brain and I need to get it out.

I call this blog "Redemption", but it's about so much more than that. It's about healing. It's about friendship. And it's about the glory of second chances.

It’s about Darren McCarty of the Red Wings. Any Detroit fan (and probably many NHL fans) know his story. I’m not going to go into details because that’s not really what makes this story so special. What really reaches out to me, is how teammate Kris Draper refused to give up on McCarty. From the accounts that I’ve seen and read, Kris reached out to Darren when others would have turned away. Darren had truly hit rock bottom. No wife. No kids. No house. No Red Wings memorabilia. They were all gone- either from frustration (wife and kids) or from bankruptcy (everything else). A once-stellar player who had helped lead his team to Stanley Cup Victories in 1997, 1998 and 2002 was truly a shadow of his former self.

The accounts that I’ve read say that Kris offered to help Darren get on track- that Darren worked out with Kris at Kris’ training facility. That Kris helped Darren get into rehab for a fourth (and final?) time. With encouragement and support, Darren started to pull his life back together. His wife came back with the kids. He got a gig playing minor league hockey - on a team owned by Draper. He seemed to be regaining his confidence and self respect. And then, the story got even better.

Darren asked Red Wings GM Ken Holland to give him another chance. Holland could have said what many other GM’s would have said: “Forget it. You blew your chance.” He didn’t. Ken Holland gave Darren McCarty that second chance. So, in November 2007, McCarthy suited up again as a Red Wing.

And had a season to remember.

Detroit had an amazing run. The post season was even better, culminating in a thrilling, 6-game Finals against my Penguins to win the Cup. And even as my heart broke for my favorite team, when I saw Darren McCarty lift that Cup over his head, I broke down and sobbed. I know what it’s taken for him to get to that glorious moment on the ice in Mellon Arena on June 4, 2008. I, too, have a story of redemption. I, too, have friends who have helped me on the road to healing. And I, too, have been given a second chance. I also know that I’m not the only one with such a story.

So, let’s go back to that moment: McCarty raising the Cup. It’s about so much more than winning a game, so much more than a uniform, or maybe even a team.



It’s about reclaiming your LIFE.
And what a life it is!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Walk On

I must confess, I am struggling and have been struggling for a little while. I've been writing like a fiend to mask my inner turmoil, but that turmoil seems to be clamoring more and more for my attention.

I don't need to talk about why I am struggling. I know everyone here has some issue that they are dealing with. I am certainly not unique in that respect. But, as I tell friends who are having troubles and feel guilty because there are other people who have worse troubles, we can only deal with our own shit. And make no mistake, our shit is very real, no matter how much worse someone else has it.

So... I'm struggling and I take my sister to an exhibit and special 35th Anniversary screening of the Bruce Lee movie "Enter the Dragon." It's an amazing night, peopled by Bruce Lee fans from all walks of life. Martial artists, collectors, former co-stars, his widow and daughter (who spoke so eloquently about Bruce as a man, a philosoper, an actor and a legend). Watching the movie on the big screen for the first time was pretty cool. Watching my sister take in the sights, meet the legendary Taky Kimura and relive the film on the big screen, was even more rewarding.

When we got home, I took several items that I wanted to keep out of my goodie bag and gave the rest to Kim to give her son Cody. Then I came in, chatted with my friend Tiara for a bit and went to bed feeling guilty that I made Tiara feel bad because I was feeling so down and she could not help me. Tiara is very caring and feels others' pain very deeply. I tried to put it down to the fact that by that time (after midnight), I'd been up for 24 hours, with only a 45 minute nap in that time frame.

I had a troubled sleep, despite a comfy new mattress and woke feeling as gray as the sky outside. No energy. No interest in the Garden Tour I signed up for with my best friend Pat. Not even coffee could perk me up. To distract myself, I went through the items I had saved from my Bruce Lee goodie bag. One thing caught my eye. It was a keychain with a little strap. I took it out of the bag it was in and looked at it more closely. The words "WALK ON" were etched into the side. Then, I noticed the bag also contained a slip of paper with lots of writing on it. I took it out and noticed it was a story. Here's what it said:

"The years between the Green Hornet and the Hong Kong films were often difficult for Bruce Lee. In Hollywood, he wasn't getting offered the roles he felt he deserved, he struggled to support his family and he injured his back very seriously and was told that he would never be able to participate in martial arts again. He turned to many self-help books during this time for inspiration.

One day, he took hold of one of his own business cards and wrote the phrase "Walk On" on the back. He bought a special stand for this card and kept it on his desk as a constant reminder to keep moving forward. With this as his mantra, Bruce Lee worked himself into the best shape of his life, wrote volumes of notes on many subjects and ideas, and further developed and named his art of Jeet Kune Do. The rest is history. When life gives you obstacles, you must summon the courage and...

WALK ON!"

Now, I have to insert something here. Before I fell asleep last night, I asked for a sign that my life was worth living, my work worth doing, my writing worth continuing and sharing with the world. I woke up to find this note. Now, I'm trying to figure out if this is the "sign" I asked for.

I guess I shall start walking... and find out.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ten Reasons HOCKEY is Better than Other Sports

This is from my friend DashHopes, from Quebec:

10. In hockey, players have a lethal weapon on each foot and one in their hands.
In soccer, the only ones with weapons are the fans.

9. In hockey, you can try to drive a player out of bounds, but thick, immovable boards get in the way.
In soccer, a light summer breeze can send a player sailing out of bounds with
the nearest opponent being penalized.

8. Hockey teams change their lineups on the fly.
In American football everything grinds to a halt while the players lumber off
and “Fresh” players come wheezing on.

7. In hockey, if you’re fat you won’t play at a high level.
In Major League Baseball, if you’re fat you become the Designated hitter.

6. In soccer, former 3rd world dictators are allowed to buy professional teams.
In hockey, billionaire Canadian businessmen aren’t allowed to buy NHL teams….Hey!! Wait a minute!

5. In hockey, when a coach passes away there are genuine all around displays of emotion and respect.
In cricket, when a coach dies there is genuine concern that the fans may have
killed him.

4. Blood contrasts with ice while it blends in with grass, dirt and gymnasium floors.

3. An entire hockey game is worth watching.
You can tune into the final few minutes of a basketball game and see all that is necessary.

2. Hockey is the fastest team sport in the world.

1. Hockey is the perfect combination of all that is great in sport. It combines speed, violence and grace….the greatest game!!!

One Extra. This is for Tiger Woods. Hockey has better bloggers than golf.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reliving the "Miracle"... Through Dad's Eyes.


I was flipping through the channels the other day because I was bored. There was nothing on, so I switched to On Demand and started flipping again. When I reached HBO, I found a documentary called “Do You Believe In Miracles” about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. I’d seen parts of it once, back in 2001 when it came out, but this time, I was ready to watch the entire thing from start to finish. So, I clicked “play” and sat back to watch.

As the events of 1980 unfolded on the screen, I started thinking about my dad. We lived in Germany then, as part of a military assignment that would end up lasting 5 years (my father extended his assignment two years so I could graduate from the same high school- an act for which I thank him to this day). My dad was not a huge hockey fan, but for some reason, he was bound and determined to watch the US - Soviet Union match up live, as it was happening.

Let me tell you a little about TV coverage in West Germany in 1980. If you lived on a military base, as we did, TV consisted of AFN (Armed Forces Network). AFN aired programs that ran about 6 months earlier in the US. Any sporting events we saw aired about a week or two after they were played and we never knew what games would actually air. And FORGET about watching any Olympic coverage LIVE. If you wanted to watch German TV, you had to pay for a license to hook your TV up to the German networks. And from what I remember, it wasn’t cheap.

Did that stop my dad? Hell, no! He has a background in electronics, and found a way to hook our TV up to a German network. Granted, the picture wasn’t that great, but you could definitely follow the action on the screen. I remember the night of the US - Soviet Union match up, he got the TV tuned as well as he could, then settled into his easy chair to watch.

The narration was in German, but that didn’t mask the excitement of what was happening in Lake Placid that February night. I heard him cheer as Buzz Schneider scored the first goal for the US. Heard him curse as the Soviets went ahead. More cheers as Mark Johnson scored to tie things up, with just one second left in the first period.
The cheers continued in the second period, as goalie Jim Craig deflected shot after shot, keeping the game close. Third period. The Soviet team is up, 3-2, when Mark Johnson scores again to tie things up. Then… feat of all feats, Mike Eruzione puts the US team up 4-3, with ten minutes left in the game.

I watch this all unfold; listen to players, American and Russian like, relive the action on the ice. But as the players and coaches talk, I see and hear my dad, in front of that fuzzy TV in our apartment in Vogelweh, Germany, cheering, groaning and urging the young Americans on, breathlessly counting down the final minutes of history. And as the clock ran out, I didn’t need to hear Al Michaels exclaim, “Do you believe in miracles?” That’s not what aired on German TV. But the explosion from the easy chair in the living room, was good enough. My dad, career soldier, stationed in West Germany in the waning years of the Cold War, when Russia and East Germany were still threats, cheering for a group of kids who pulled off the impossible.

On my TV screen, some players teared up as they remembered their accomplishment. I teared up as I remembered the pride my dad felt at the US victory. He told me later that he felt as though that win on the ice in Lake Placid illustrated what he felt to serve in the military- standing tall in the face of the enemy. Watching the documentary, I know that my dad wasn’t the only one who felt that way. But he’s the only one I can draw from and the memory is still so strong, it stands out, even now, so many years later.


I plan to buy a copy of that documentary to send to my dad. He only saw that game once, on a fuzzy screen he’d rigged up just for that night in February 1980. I think he should see it in living color, complete with commentary from the amazing guys who made up that team, their legendary coach Herb Brooks and assistant coach Craig Patrick (who went on to make their marks in the NHL, most notably, with my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins). I hope he can recapture the magic he felt that night 28 years ago, on a military base in West Germany, and know that the pride he felt in those kids, is the same pride I feel for him and his lifetime of service to Uncle Sam.

Thanks, Dad.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hard Hitting, Soft Hearted


The first time I saw Georges Laraque on the ice, I didn’t know what to think. Here was a player who was not afraid of anything, not afraid to muscle his way through throngs of enemy players, either racing to the aid of a teammate or chasing down the puck.
I thought, “Wow, this is one tough guy.”

My husband was not so impressed. “Oh, that’s Georges Laraque. He’s a goon.” He paused, then relented. “He’s probably about the best fighter in the league.”

I was a little taken aback at his blasé tone. “Best fighter in the league? What a way to be known.”
My husband laughed. “Don’t knock it,” he said. “There’s a lot of respect that comes with that title.”

“Along with a few broken bones,” I shot back.

He shrugged, as if to say that it comes with the territory.

Georges Laraque joined my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was still tough. Still barreled his way through the enemy line as though they were bowling pins and he was a human cannonball bent on making a strike. Then, something else happened. The newspapers started writing about him, and I started learning about the heart that beats underneath that tough exterior.

I read about Georges, driving from Calgary to Edmonton to fulfill a dying boy’s final wish: to meet his hero. It didn’t matter that he had a game to rest up for. This boy wanted to meet him, and by golly, he was going to meet him.

I read about Georges volunteering to fly to Tanzania to take part in a program for children who have been orphaned by AIDS or living in refugee camps. His only regret: that he couldn’t bring any of the boys and girls home with him.


I read about Georges sponsoring a hockey camp at a community center in Pittsburgh. I saw video of him running drills, teaching kids how to hold hockey sticks, signing t-shirts, running around with them like a big, overgrown kid himself.

I read about Georges giving his cell phone number to anyone who needs a helping hand. About how available he is to lend a hand, deliver food for the needy, help children buy school supplies and winter coats.

And my admiration grew.


Yes, I liked his style on the ice. He’s protective and he never backs down from a fight. But my respect stems from his countless acts of giving off the ice, most of them performed without a camera recording his every good deed. He’d probably even like it if his deeds went unnoticed, because he doesn’t perform them for glory. He performs them to feed his soul.

This week, the Penguins dealt Georges Laraque to the Montreal Canadiens.


I will miss his powerful stride up the ice to enforce hockey law. I will miss his deep laugh as an interviewer asks him some “interesting” questions. But most of all, I will miss his great, big beautiful heart, which I have no doubt he won’t waste any time sharing, as soon as he finds his bearings in Montreal.

Bon Chance, Georges. Montreal has received a tremendous gift.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You Give TV News a Bad Name

I saw something the other morning on the Today Show that made me yank great chunks of hair out of my head and feel very ashamed to say that I work in TV news. They did a story on a woman who was stabbed to death by a carjacker because she would not surrender her car. She was trying to protect her baby who was in the back seat. If the story wasn’t bad enough, they came out of it to a shot on the couch, and Meredith introducing the woman’s husband and TWO OTHER CHILDREN. She insisted that everyone wanted to be on the show to talk about what a wonderful wife and mother she had been, but every time she asked the son (who looked 13) and daughter (who looked 10) a question, they became so upset it was hard to answer.

Here’s my question: WHO’S GREAT IDEA WAS IT TO DRAG THESE KIDS ON LIKE A MORBID DOG AND PONY SHOW? I mean, really. Are we so greedy for ratings that we stoop so low?

I don’t care if the kids DID insist on coming on the show. ADULTS should have better sense than to let this happen. If there’s some producer sitting back and thinking they scored a coup by dragging grieving children on air to cry over their murdered mother, that producer SHOULD BE SHOT.

At this point, I am extremely disgusted to say I work in the same medium and hope my bosses have the good sense never to stoop so low.

P.S. AFTER THE HORRIBLE INTERVIEW, MEREDITH TOSSED TO WEATHER. Talk about an awkward transition.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The National Anthem I Will Never Forget (Or… Why I ALWAYS write the words down before every game!)


I was the National Anthem singer for my university. If there was a sport to be played, you’d see me singing the anthem before every game. Our school has an NCAA Divison I ice hockey team, so it was inevitable that we would eventually play a Canadian school, although I thought it highly unlikely. After all, our university was in Alabama! No Canadian team would ever travel to Alabama.

Well, the inevitable happened. January 1992. Seneca College came to play. I learned about it several months in advance and kept telling myself I needed to learn the Canadian anthem. Finally, the week of the game, I dragged myself to the University library to check out a record that contained Canadian folk songs, including the national anthem. I took it home and listened to it over and over and over and over until I had it memorized. I wrote the words down. I returned the record to the library. I felt confident that I would nail it.

The day of the first game arrived. I couldn’t find the words anywhere. I rushed to the library, but wouldn’t you know it, someone checked out the record of Canadian folk songs! Who knew that Canadian folk songs were so popular in the Deep South? I went to the public library. No Canadian folk songs or national anthem in sight. I wracked my brain and managed to remember the beginning and end of the song. I could not remember the middle. The clock was inching closer to game time.

I became desperate and hunted down the first Canadian I could think of: our goalie. He had always been very nice to me. I found him stretching in the hallway outside the locker room. When I asked him to help me with the words, he scrunched up his face, deep in thought. Then, together, we went through it.

By the time I took the ice to sing, I felt confident that I had it nailed. Until I started to sing. I knew right away that the words I’d been given were not right. They didn’t fit the cadence of the song. But, in show business, they say, never let them see you sweat. I knew I didn’t have the right words, but I sang them as though they had always been part of Canadian history. I sailed through the American anthem and rushed off the ice. As usual, I was greeted by enthusiastic fans as I made my way to my seat. One woman gushed, “I’ve never heard the Canadian anthem sung like that before!” I grinned at her wryly and replied, “And you’ll never hear it like that again!”

After the game, I took quite the ribbing from the players. Several scolded me for seeking advice from our goalie.

“Didn’t you know that goalies don’t know shit?” one player scoffed. “Everyone knows that! It’s a proven fact!” (This I highly doubt. Our goalie not only was an excellent player, he actually finished school and I believe went on to pursue a higher degree).

The player who was mocking the goalie leaned in. “You should have come to me!”
I looked him square in the eye and asked, “So YOU know the words to the Canadian anthem?”


He looked taken aback. “Of course not!” he spluttered. “But I would have just told you I didn’t know! I wouldn’t have made shit up!”


Later that night, the goalie came to find me. He apologized, sheepishly explaining that he’d wanted to help me so badly, he hadn’t had the heart to tell me he didn’t know the words to his own national anthem.

I forgave him, and made sure I had the correct words when I sang the next night, and every night after that.

So, if you’re at a sporting event that I’m singing at, you may see me scribbling madly on a scrap of paper. It’s my superstitious ritual. I write the words to each anthem on a scrap of paper about 5 minutes before I sing.

And as much as you’d like to say hi, let me finish my ritual.

Trust me, you’ll enjoy my performance much better if you do.